Secretarial: The Temp - Heat rage: it's time to clear the air

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The Independent Culture
HOT ENOUGH for you? Pleased to be wearing those sleeveless dresses designed to show off the first onset of underarm dangle at its best? Glad to be sharing your travelling space with people who have forgotten that hot weather brings not only pleasure, but responsibility towards others? Enjoying those damp little private moments pointing the hand-drier at your armpits? Or are you locked implacably, as so many people find themselves at this time of year, in ventilation wars?

I've never liked aircon myself - too many microbes - but there's one thing to be said for it, and that's that it puts paid to controversy. Someone, somewhere in the building, decides the temperature you're all going to work at, and that's that. But half the buildings in this city, what with listing laws and waiting to redevelop, don't have aircon. Instead, employees are expected to cool themselves down by the old-fashioned expedient of opening windows. Open a window? you gasp. Whatever will they think of next?

Surprisingly enough, opening windows has often proved a pretty effective means of lowering room temperature. It's only a pity it seems to have an overheating effect on certain people.

Take Lauren. It's been tantrums all the way this week because she doesn't see why, just because all her colleagues are bathed in sweat, the window near her should be open. If she comes back from lunch to find that someone's opened it, she marches over and slams it shut, and a scene begins.

"Please, Lauren," someone will cry, "it's over 80 degrees in here. Can't we have it open?"

Lauren, who my extra-sensory powers lead me to suspect of power-broking rather than genuine discomfort, will turn her pinched little face to the room and snarl "No. There's a draught."

"Yes," someone else will say, "that was the idea. If we could at least get a breeze through here, we might not all melt."

"Well," says Lauren, employing one of those time-honoured phrases that you just know is going to be followed by an act of selfishness, "it's all very well for you, but I'm sitting right in it. You don't have to sit by the window. I don't see why I should have to have a draught on my neck and all my papers going everywhere just for your convenience."

"Well," a voice will pipe up from the far corner, over where the photocopier pumps the temperature up into the nineties, "I'll swap desks with you."

"Huh," huffs Lauren. "And take my view and my light? You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

Person beside the photocopier says nothing because, of course, they'd like it very much.

Lauren slams the window shut. Folds her arms and looks triumphant. "There," she says.

"Lauren, really. It's boiling in here. Everyone apart from you wants it open."

"Oh." She puts on one of those hoity-toity voices. "Then obviously I should be inconvenienced for all your sakes."

There's a little pause, then someone very brave pipes up, "Well, actually, there are 13 of us in here and only one of you."

"Tell you what," says the woman sitting at the desk opposite Lauren's, "why don't we put it to a vote? Hands up who wants it open."

Thirteen hands shoot into the air. Lauren, furious, slumps into her seat while someone does the business. "Well, I think you're all very selfish." She pointedly shrugs into a jacket. "Now I've got to sit here all afternoon like this." She grumbles on as heads drop to their work, and everyone just ignores her.

I continue, surreptitiously, to watch her. She looks around the room, sees that all backs are turned, and quietly moves the dictionary from where it weighs down a couple of reams of extra-light triplicate form paper. Shifts the top few so they're angled to catch the breeze. Waits.

A gust creeps round the corner of the window frame, lifts a couple of dozen papers, and blows them sideways. Lauren, pretending to leap to save them, helps them another three feet on their way. They end up on the floor, on other desks, draped over the filing cabinets. "Now look!" she cries. "See what you've done? It's going to take hours to sort that lot out! Hours! Well, thank you very much indeed!"